Change Management

How to successfully manage the introduction of new software

Change Management is often cited as a factor in the failure of information technology projects. We would like to take a brief look at this topic and make some high level suggestions.

So what is change management?

Change management can be defined as the orderly transition from one state to another. It is the process of managing expectations and introducing a new system with minimal disruption. In the IT industry there is often a narrow view of the scope of change management, concentrating more on the immediate changes to systems, such as the version control of releases, rather than the broader view of overall changes to the organisation as a whole.

IT systems are an integral part of any business and they often have effects beyond traditional departmental boundaries. For example, implementing a new finance system may have resounding repercussions for customers and suppliers, as well as the finance department. Many businesses look to provide increased productivity by altering work practices without fully appreciating that change in one area can have far-reaching implications.

How do successful businesses manage change?

There are significant steps you can take to manage change before embarking on any software implementation. The key to change management is to budget for it and to start early. According to AMR Research, users executing successful enterprise software implementations spent 10-15% of their project budget on change management resources.

The art of change management is to provide a seamless transition. This can only be tackled through rigorous analysis and planning – well before the change is actually implemented. Your aim should be to ensure that every eventuality and consequence is considered and managed. You need to thoroughly review the issues, consider the impacts, and determine the requirements to ensure a smooth implementation. Some of the changes may be technical, some may be procedural, some may only appear later in the project life.

Generally, the greatest hurdle to overcome is resistance to change. Michael Hammer, author of The Agenda, suggests a 20/60/20 rule; in an organisation 20% of people will readily embrace change, 20% will be strongly against it. The remaining 60% could go either way. Hammer also notes that many of the "strongly against" are in the management ranks.

Therefore, it is essential that you understand the potential effects on the stakeholders within the organisation (and outside of it).

Resistance is usually brought about by fear. So you must endeavour to understand the potential causes of fear. Are staff members afraid of losing their job? Do middle managers fear loss of control? Do senior managers fear failure? People's fears need to be allayed by understanding the issues and putting processes in place to mitigate them.

The businesses that most successfully accept change generally have an open and understanding culture and genuine management buy-in and support of the change and the change management process. Such organisations are typically characterised by the following.

  • Two-way Communication
  • Leadership
  • Training and Support

Two-way Communication

The most effective way to minimize resistance is through two-way communication and involvement. Utilise the knowledge and experience of your staff. Without listening to the users of the current system you may overlook important issues; many day to day activities are undocumented or have altered from the original business process. If users feel they are part of the change process, rather than having change forced upon them, then half the battle is won.

Once the change has been decided upon, staff should hear of it from two sources; senior management and their immediate managers. The senior management should explain the strategic business benefits of the change. The immediate managers should explain the impact on the individual employees. It is often helpful to run communication sessions for all staff, giving the opportunity to introduce the basics of the new software and business processes. These sessions serve as a platform for answering questions and allow you to begin altering the entrenched mindset. Users will benefit as they will have already absorbed some of the required knowledge before attending subsequent training sessions.

Leadership

To successfully adapt to change, an organisation needs managers who lead by example. This means managers need to be proactively open, understanding, and communicative. They need to buy into the new process and they need to buy into the change management plan.

A project sponsor is essential; select someone from senior management who will champion the cause. The sponsor should be respected by the staff and be a good communicator. Selecting someone who is diligent and perceptive pays dividends.

The message to be delivered needs to convey a clear sense of mission and purpose. Success depends on strong, visible, and effective sponsorship. Good leadership builds focus and commitment. If there is no clear direction and the future is uncertain it is likely that your best staff (the most marketable) will look elsewhere.

Of course, leadership isn't just about management. In any organisation, some of the most influential leaders come from the rank and file. To aid in the communication process, select the best users, especially those who embrace change, and incorporate them into the project as testers, trainers, and advisors. Have them champion the cause and use them as the first line of support after the implementation. These users will spread the word and help convert the 60% that could go either way.

Training and Support

It is essential to make users comfortable with the new system. This is usually achieved through training. The training should cover not just how to use the new technology, but also detail any new business processes.

The best people to provide the training are often current members of staff; they know the people, know the business, and, if your change management has been done properly, they know the new system and processes.

Users should be challenged by the training but, by the end of the session, feel confident in their abilities.

Looking beyond the implementation is important too. Users must know there is sufficient support available for them in order to use the new software effectively and efficiently. Without this knowledge, users will feel insecure about their abilities and even about their position. Ensure an effective support process is in place and that users are aware of it.

Conclusion

Never underestimate the change management effort. Make sure you budget for it, and make sure you start early. Detailed planning, clear communication, and rigorous analysis are essential for a smooth transition. Start early and ensure that at all times you engage in genuine two-way communication. If you want staff buy-in, your staff must feel they have a stake.

Oct 2005